What does it mean to say that knowledge is socially constructed?

What does it mean to say that knowledge is socially constructed?

Discussion Questions

1. Explain in your own words the difference between “critical thinking” and “opinion.”

2. What does it mean to say that knowledge is socially constructed? Give some examples.

3. What do the authors mean when they say that “what you know” is connected to “who you are”?

Extension Activity

1. Choose a newspaper article, textbook passage, novel, film, commercial, or other text. Identify which of the various forms of knowledge (personal/cultural knowledge, popular knowledge, school knowledge, mainstream academic knowledge, transformative knowledge) manifest in the text, and describe how.

2. a. Read Chapter 1 of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States: 1492–Present (New York: HarperCollins, 1980) or Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson’s Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years (Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, 1998).

b. Watch the film Pocahontas (Walt Disney Pictures; Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 1997). Using the text and the film as a window into knowledge construction, reflect upon the following questions:

» Which story of first contact is most often taught in schools? How is it taught?

» Whose interests are served by “school knowledge” about first contact?

» How do these texts illustrate the concept of knowledge as socially constructed?

Patterns to practice seeing:

1. What kinds of knowledge are presented as fact and which are presented as opinion? How is this difference conveyed to us?

2. How do families tend to feel about what school their children go to? What are all of the different processes and options related to school choice? What does this say about the idea that all knowledge is equal?



Culture and Socialization

“I don’t think about people’s race, class, or gender. I just see people as human.”

This chapter explains the process of socialization and the interplay between our individuality and our membership in social groups (such as race, gender, and class). We also explain how important it is for us to understand that our ideas, views, and opinions are not simply individual, objective, and independent, but rather are the result of social messages and conditioning forces. We describe how, in addition to our families, institutions and other social forces work together to influence our worldview. Examples are provided to illustrate the power of socialization and how it works as an unconscious filter shaping our perceptions.

Vocabulary to practice using: dominant culture; binary; normalized (norm, normative); gendered; racialized; minoritized

Imagine that you are in a class or workshop and your instructor makes any one of the following statements:

“White people receive the message that they are more important and more valuable than people of Color.” “Members of the middle and upper classes have an easier time getting into universities and getting jobs.” “When men enter women-dominated fields, they quickly rise to the top to positions of leadership over the women.” “Heterosexuals publicize their sexuality daily in a multitude of ways.”

Several people in the class, perhaps including yourself, hear this and have an immediate defensive reaction: “Wait a minute, you can’t generalize like that! You don’t know me, and you definitely don’t know what obstacles I faced getting into college. I was taught to see everyone as equal. I have a female boss! I don’t talk about my sexuality in public!”


Such reactions are common when discussing politically charged issues such as race, class, gender, and sexuality. But defensiveness is triggered by more than a difference of opinion about what the instructor is saying. In order to understand the instructor’s statements and why they so often cause defensiveness, we have to have a thorough understanding of culture and socialization.

Place Your Order Here!

What does it mean to say that knowledge is socially constructed?
What does it mean to say that knowledge is socially constructed?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *